St. Vincent album review


Singer/musician St. Vincent performs at the American Express UNSTAGED Fashion with DVF at Spring Studios on February 9, 2014 in New York City. (Thos Robinson)
February 27
ST. VINCENT
“St. Vincent”

Kindred spirits: Chrissie Hynde, PJ Harvey, Tina Weymouth

Show: Saturday at the 9:30 Club.
Doors open at 8 p.m. 202-265-0930. www.930.com. Show is sold out.

Annie Clark, who performs under the stage name St. Vincent, has just released her fourth solo album, the endlessly fascinating “St. Vincent,” her first since her triumphant collaboration with David Byrne.

There are thin traces of Byrne’s influence here — the brass-band stomp of “Digital Witness,” the stuttering phrasing of “Rattlesnake,” the minimalist art-punk of “Psychopath” — but for the most part the new record grows out of Clark’s three earlier solo discs. If anything, her ongoing struggle between pretty and harsh, reverie and distortion, hopeful and bleak has only intensified.

Heightening the conflict is Clark’s
increased emphasis on funky dance rhythms; this could have been an irresistible EDM project had she chosen that route. Instead, the pounding grooves appear and disappear, frustrating would-be dancers but drawing the careful listener into her strange little fables.

“Prince Johnny,” for example, is Clark’s rewrite of the “Pinocchio” story. She’s back in high school, watching her best friend disappear into the bathroom stalls, praying that someone will make him “a real boy.” The bass-and-drums groove is infectious, but the vocal and synth are dreamy, as if the lyrics’ description of adolescent reality and fantasy were echoing in the music. On “Digital Witness,” the cyber world is described as both a shrine and a tomb “of zeroes and ones,” an imaginary bubble inflated by Clark’s ear-candy hooks and punctured by her distorted guitar parts.

This push-and-pull of textures and moods works only because Clark is so good at both halves of the equation — the noisy art-rock and the pleasure-principle pop (she sings Jerome Kern’s “Make Believe” quite beguilingly on the recent “Boardwalk Empire” soundtrack). When Clark finally pushes through the noise and bares her heart on such ballads as “I Prefer Your Love” and “Severed Crossed Fingers,” the emotional impact matches the musical ingenuity.

Geoffrey Himes

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